Male hand showing light bulb with a graduation cap symbol. Education

College Reformers Have Ideas. Calbright Is Proving They Work

If someone were to reinvent college to better support students from all walks of life, what would work? What changes would help?

Writing in Inside Higher Ed, Steven Mintz author of The Learning-Centered University: Making College a More Developmental, Transformational and Equitable Experience, offers 10 ideas. They range from making colleges more career focused to creating different kinds of assessments, offering holistic student support services, and developing asynchronous classes that students can take on their own schedules.  

We’ve got good news: Calbright is already doing nine of these suggestions. And they’re working.

Making College More Accessible, And More Supportive, To More People

Here are Mintz 10 recommendations:

  1. Institute bridge programs, a robust new student orientation and first-year learning communities with a thematic or career focus and an academic success component to better acclimate today’s diverse undergraduates to college life, nurture their study skills, instill a sense of belonging and assist them in major and career exploration.
  2. Design a general education curriculum that ensures that all undergraduates acquire the fluencies in the arts and humanities; social science methods, theories and findings; and the frontiers of science expected of a college graduate.
  3. Implement block schedules and introduce more highly interactive hybrid and synchronous online classes to better accommodate students who work, commute and care for others.
  4. Infuse essential skills development—in such areas as written and oral communication and quantitative and statistical literacy—across the curriculum.
  5. Incentivize faculty to prioritize mentoring, engage in interdisciplinary collaboration and adopt innovative pedagogies that involve active, experiential and inquiry-, problem- and project-based learning. 
  6. Create integrated degree pathways that consist of synergistic courses that emphasize professional identity formation and are aligned with students’ postgraduation career aspirations.
  7. Promote assessment practices that are formative and diagnostic, allowing for timely interventions; that foster a deeper understanding of the material and enhance critical thinking skills; that are authentic, asking students to apply what they’ve learned in real-world or simulated scenarios; that encourage students to evaluate their own work against established criteria to foster self-regulation, reflection and lifelong learning skills; and that provide regular, substantive constructive and actionable feedback.
  8. Embed career preparation throughout the undergraduate experience to ensure that graduates are job ready.
  9. Make a greater commitment to equity by promoting inclusive student success in highly demanding fields of study. 
  10. Offer more holistic, comprehensive and proactive support services to better address students’ academic success and personal well-being.

Calbright’s curriculum is solely focused on workforce-based skills. So the only recommendation we have yet to fulfill is number two: creating a robust general education curriculum. That’s a good idea for traditional four year colleges, and maybe even conventional community colleges, but Calbright is intensely career focused for working adults. Everything we do is designed to help our students get the specific skills they need to get a better job (or a promotion at their current one), and thrive in the workplace, as soon as possible. We teach career oriented “soft skills” that are in-demand across California’s labor market.

We have implemented every other one of these recommendations, and we are constantly iterating and improving based on our students’ needs and feedback.

And we’re proving that they work.

Calbright Is An Innovation Lab To Reinvent College

Calbright is able to implement Mintz’s recommendations because we’re not a traditional college. We are a fully accredited, public, online community college that uses a Competency-Based Education model. We are career focused. Instead of traditional degrees, we offer certificates in key skills that upwardly mobile industries are hiring for.

This means that every adult Californian with a high school diploma or equivalent is accepted – no drama, no confusion, all they have to do is apply. It means that every student has a team of support specialists, who get to know them personally, on their side as they study. It means students take classes that are focused on the careers they want: that’s all they study, and they can finish in less than a year. Sometimes much less. It means that students study at their own pace, on their own schedules, wherever they are. It means that students can keep trying until they learn the skills they need to, with no penalty. It means Calbright is currently free, so there’s no student debt.

We know this works, because our enrollment has gone up significantly, our student body is far more diverse than most colleges, more students are completing their coursework, and alumni surveys show that more than half our students say that they see improvements in their careers as a result of their time at Calbright – and it cost them nothing.

College can be reinvented to work for more people. We have the plan, and we’re proving it works. 

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